Enterprising BA Sculpture graduate, Ciara McNeill, starts own mural painting business
This week is UAL’s Creative Enterprise Week (12-16 November), a series of events, talks and activities to help students turn their creative ideas into reality. To celebrate, we caught up with one of our enterprising graduates who has set up her own creative business.
Since graduating from the BA Sculpture earlier this year, Ciara McNeill has started CM Design, which offers bespoke mural design specialising in children’s bedrooms and play areas.
Ciara discovered her penchant and passion for mural design almost by accident, after she got a job with an interior design company who regularly employed muralists to work on different projects.
“It was really quite random. When I graduated and was working for the interior design company, I was really impressed by these muralists and what they were creating,” says Ciara.
“For me, their work was a link between interior design and art, which I found really interesting. And that’s when I thought ‘well, why couldn’t I do this myself?’”
The company Ciara was working for asked her if she wanted to work on some of their mural projects and she jumped at the chance.
“I learned so much by working on a mural myself, particularly about paint, because you need to use long-lasting wall paints instead of oil or acrylic paints like a normal painter would use,” she explains.
“I also learned about using stencils and made one for a flower mural I worked on, and also did some gilding. I learned a lot of tricks of the trade!”
Ciara then branched out to designing and painting her own murals for a small group of clients, and her business has only grown from there.
“I started out painting a few murals for friends, and that’s when I decided to turn it into a small business,” she says.
“I really enjoy designing for children’s bedrooms in particular, because when you’re working with kids you can be a lot more creative and fun with your ideas. I have come up with all kinds of ideas for murals, from jungle, winter, princess and space themes.”
“My favourite project I’ve worked on so far is the rocket room. It was for a three-year-old boy and his room was quite bland and stark, so I started painting a rocket because that’s what he loves. I hadn’t told him what I was making, but after I had drawn the outline on the wall he noticed it and apparently as he was going to bed he was making rocket noises and pretending to be an astronaut because he was so excited. When I was finished, he absolutely loved his room and it was really touching to see how happy it made him.”
Sometimes Ciara’s clients have a very specific theme in mind, but other clients give her complete creative freedom to do anything she likes.
“I make mood boards, concept boards and 3D SketchUp designs and I send them over to the client to review. Then they provide their feedback, adding bits in or taking away,” Ciara explains.
“I do the designs on SketchUp because sometimes it can be hard for people to visualise what I’m thinking. I had to teach myself SketchUp recently and it helps with the mural business, but I’m also trying to apply for interior design job roles and SketchUp knowledge is a big advantage. It’s been a big help in creating a portfolio that I can show to prospective employers.”
SketchUp wasn’t the only new skill Ciara had to learn in order to grow her business, and she was surprised at just how much time and energy goes into marketing and networking.
“That’s the most daunting thing, is having to be brave and get in touch with people to say ‘let me work for you’. I’ve visited design teams and studios, explaining that I’m an artist and asking if they might need me for any upcoming projects, and I’ve had some interest from that. You need that confidence to just go and do it. The worst that can happen is they can say ‘no’, and that doesn’t matter. You’ve got nothing to lose,” she says.
“I’ve found a lot of my clients through word of mouth, but social media has also been instrumental in finding new clients. I’ve contacted a lot of my clients through Instagram direct messages. What I’m also doing is utilising Instagram influencers and am offering them a deal of half my usual rate to create a mural if they share my work on their social media. I’m working with a blogger at the moment who has 72,000 followers which will hopefully lead on to more work. Influencers and bloggers are resources I never really considered, but getting in touch with them has been such a boost for my business. The platform is there so why not use it?”
While her business is still in the early stages, Ciara has grand plans for growing her business and expanding into other areas of design.
“I’d love to make bespoke sculptural furniture, designing beds that are really unique and quirky and fit in with the overall theme of the room. My dream is to design whole bedrooms to create immersive environments for children. Everything handmade, really different and very fun.”
Because Ciara’s business marries her interests in both art and interior design, she has opted not to continue with her artistic practice she established at university.
“Making murals scratches the creative itch for me even more so than making work for myself did. I always thought I wanted to be an “artist”, but since leaving I’m realising that there’s so many different ways to be an artist, and there’s no wrong or right way,” says Ciara.
“You don’t have to just have a studio practice and make work. You can think outside the box and discover different ways you can make a living from your work. Your options are not limited to just getting a studio and being an artist that way.”
As the creator of a new small artistic business, Ciara has some useful advice for other art students or graduates looking to do the same thing.
“Just go for it and have fun! When you’ve just graduated is the perfect time to start your own business because you’ve got nothing to lose. It’s daunting when you leave university having to make money, and I’m actually doing temporary agency work alongside my mural business to help make ends meet, but it’s given me the freedom to pursue my interests,” she explains.
“When I was coming up to graduating I was panicking thinking that I needed to find a full-time job straight away. These six months since I left university have actually been so much fun because I haven’t been tied down to a particular job; I’ve tried loads of different things and ended up finding out what I wanted to do. Be excited about leaving and don’t worry too much. I’d also say don’t rush home, stay in London if it’s feasible for you because there’s so many opportunities here. If you can, stay and see what’s out there.”